In the world of leafy greens, colorful Swiss chard can be pure eye candy with its green, red, yellow, or orange stalks and large, dark green to purple leaves. Actually a subspecies of beet, Swiss chard is a biennial usually grown as an annual for its broad and tasty leaves. For the impatient gardener begging for a fresh vegetal crunch, chard can be harvested early as a baby green for salads. If you can resist this temptation, leaves will remain harvestable up to 10″ long. Chard does best in cooler weather but will tolerate heat if given sufficient moisture. In mild climates, it can be planted all year round.
Ruby Red or Rhubarb Swiss Chard features large, glossy, dark purple-green leaves with a bright red stem and veins. It may be less productive than a green type, but the splash of unusual color makes up for it, as does its higher frost tolerance.
Seed Depth: 1/2–3/4″
Space Between Plants: 12–18″
Space Between Rows: 18″
Germination Soil Temperature: 40–80°F
Days for Germination: 5–10
Sow Indoors: 4–6 weeks before average last frost date, or 3 months before average first frost date for a fall crop.
Sow Outdoors: 2–4 weeks before average last frost date, or 2 months before average first frost date for a fall crop.
Will grow best in cool weather but will tolerate summer heat if kept well-watered. This variety is more frost tolerant than others and can survive light frosts down to around 25°F. Plant in fall to grow fresh greens throughout the winter in USDA Zones 8 and above.
Natural: Full Sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade if growing in hot weather.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent lamps. Needs at least 12 hours of light daily; however, more is preferred.
Soil: Prefers loamy soils with a high amount of organic matter. A pH of 6.0–6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Will germinate well in a variety of soilless media, including rockwool and coco coir.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in deep water culture or ebb and flow media bed hydroponic systems. Use gravel or clay pellets as your growing media because of their good drainage.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate amounts of water in the early stages of growth but will generally need an increase in applications in the hotter months. If it’s allowed to become too dry, chard will turn quite bitter. Aim for 1 to 1.5″ per week.
Nutrients: Prefers nitrogen-rich fertilizers such as composted manure or blood meal. A standard balanced fertilizer such as a 15-15-15 can also benefit plants once the leaves begin to grow.
Foliar: A bi-weekly foliar of sea kelp or fish emulsion will help plants thrive.
Pruning: Older leaves should be harvested from the bottom of the plant throughout the duration of the season to encourage growth in the newer leaves.
Mulching: Although not required, chard can benefit from organic mulching such as straw or wood chips to control weed populations.
Rotation: Can be rotated with most other crops.
Companions: Grows well with members of the cabbage family, beans, hot peppers, and onions. Avoid melons and corn.
Harvest: Leaves may be harvested throughout the growing season, but be mindful to leave enough baby leaves (about 2/3) for later harvests: taking more than this will damage the plant. Harvest leaves as adults when the plant has reached approximately 6″ tall by pulling downwards on the leaf stalk as close to the main stem as possible.
Storage: Leaves may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Do not wash until ready to use.
Fun Fact: Evidence has been found that Swiss chard was a common vegetable in ancient Greece, with some estimates placing its prospective domestic cultivation date as far back as 400 BCE. The Greeks definitely knew what was good for them!
Preserve: Leaves may be blanched and frozen or pickled.
Prepare: Can be cooked in ways similar to spinach, e.g., sautéed, steamed, or baked into dishes. Prior to cooking, many people will cut the leaves off of the central stalk since they can be tough even when cooked. Leaves may also be eaten raw.
Nutritional: Contains exceptionally high levels of vitamin K as well as moderate levels of vitamin(s) A and C. Also contains fatty acids, such as omega-6 and -3, antioxidants, and trace amounts of most major minerals.
Medicinal: Has been noted to be a positive addition to any diet as it can help control cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate. It has also been linked to reducing the risk of colon and prostate cancers.
Warnings: Patients on anticoagulant medications should consult their physician prior to consuming Swiss chard due to its high levels of vitamin K. Those who suffer from urinary tract stones should also consult their physician prior to consuming this vegetable: it contains high levels of oxalate which can increase the chance of stones.
For a quick and healthy meal, try this sautéed Swiss chard recipe.